On ViewSasha Wolf Gallery
September 9 – October 23, 2010
As the United States slid into financial disaster and unemployment unlike anything seen by most Americans in their lifetimes, photographic team James Tribble and Tracey Mancenido-Tribble undertook a social experiment that, on the surface, does not seem terribly unusual for the times, save for their artistic motivations; they retooled their skill set for the lean job market and became long-haul truckers. The end result is Hurry Up & Wait, a year-long meditation that glimpses those seldom-seen faces “driving” (haha) the nation’s economy, endlessly crisscrossing lonely highways, pausing only to rest uneasily in some generic, neon oasis that no one could reasonably confuse with home.
This show, by title, makes ready reference to this brutal and often contradictory lifestyle. The display takes on a different meaning for any viewer who, like this one, experienced the world of the truck stop as a magical, irresistible haven of adolescent freedom: a purveyor of cheap, greasy food with minor waitress interference, modern videogame amenities, and unique people-watching prospects—a fluorescent-blasted, 24-hour microcosm of the surreal and the too-real. These works by Tribble and Mancenido would seem to offer a deeper and perhaps less fanciful entrée into this secret club of blue-collared Freemasons stealthily traversing our nation’s arteries.
Posed portraits depict the not-quite-Teen Dream, the often grizzled and worn human factor behind that shipment of soon-to-be forgotten must-have merchandise about to hit the shelves of your local WalMart. The truckers here are rendered just so perfectly inert that, if you listen closely, you might hear the photographers whispering to their unlikely muses, “Look more directionless and impotently heroic.”
Highly stylized shots of the detritus of the life experienced by our pair of ersatz truckers flesh out the spaces not filled with portraits. One may wonder, however, what the cold beauty of oil on asphalt, though surely aesthetically stunning, actually means for these artist truckers, or any truckers, or anyone ever. Its glossy majesty, captured in neon fragments floating in impossible blackness, like each visually arresting portrait, somehow seems to ring vacant, promising authenticity but delivering only the faintest whiff.
This subject matter begs for more than a hip rendering of the tire tracks made by 18 wheels on fresh snow or headlights sculpting the cold steel of parked trailers swallowed by night. The objects whose surfaces the artists fetishize still remain shrouded in mystery, though it seems unclear whether this is a choice the artists made to preserve the integrity of some trucker’s code, or if it is a choice at all. Trucking as depicted here becomes a purely aesthetic experience, all glossy surface and purposefully orchestrated gaze, yet the faces of the subjects imply there is far more to be understood. In spite of the experiential truth inherent in this work, what Tribble and Mancenido seem to have created is an open road version of Marie Antoinette’s peasant cottage—technically correct in its details, but lacking the substance of legitimacy.